CHAMPAIGN – Aryn Gilenson says he remembers virtually nothing about his first Big 12 Conference wrestling title in 2007.
When it comes to truly forgettable league meets, however, the Champaign Central senior has an all-too vivid memory of his Big 12 tournament baptism one year earlier.
As the only freshman in the Maroons' lineup, Gilenson absorbed a 12-0 beating in his first Big 12 Championships match. After surviving one consolation bout, he then was ousted by pin.
"I was a little down because I figured I would do better," Gilenson said. "It was a big disappointment."
It's the last time he has felt that way at the annual league meet because it was the last time Gilenson lost. The two-time Big 12 champion is 6-0 in the tournament since, with none of his five contested matches going the distance. His victories included three pins, two technical falls and a default.
On Saturday at Centennial High School, Gilenson will go for a Big 12 threepeat – something only one other wrestler during the 14-year Jeff Scott coaching era at Central has achieved. Mario Pulcini was a four-time league champ (2002-05).
"It would be a really big milestone for me," Gilenson said. "I'm just going to go into it like it's another tournament, but I'm still looking forward to getting that third championship."
Gilenson enters with a perfect 28-0 record and a No. 2 Class 2A state ranking at 125 pounds. He plans to wrestle at 130 pounds Saturday to enhance Central's scoring potential in the team standings but will enter the IHSA state series as a 125-pounder.
At any weight, Scott considers Gilenson to be one of the toughest-minded wrestlers he's ever coached.
"His skill level is plenty high – he's very, very good – but mentally he's got it figured out," the Maroons coach said. "He fights for every stinking point he ever earns and never gives anyone an easy one.
"A lot of guys think they're going to win most of the matches, but he really believes he can win all of them. And that's critical because when you wrestle the good guys, you've got to bring that to the table."
The proof is in the results. Since the start of his sophomore season, Gilenson has a 94-14 record. In the process, the senior has risen to fourth on Central's career wins list (110).
He's eager to add to that total – and to his collection of Big 12 first-place medals.
"The Big 12 establishes where you (rank) in the area," Gilenson said. "And I think that's a big deal."
So does Scott, especially when it comes to multiple conference crowns.
"You're in select company when you get three," the Central coach said. "It's a huge thing and we've talked (with Gilenson) about that.
"For us, I think the regional, sectional stuff is more of a how-far-did-you-make-it thing. But to say you won the Big 12 ... it's (against) their peers. It's who they play other sports against. It's a very prideful thing."